Update from Kate - Marin County Brings Big Oil to Court for a Day of Reckoning

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Update from Kate

Marin County Brings Big Oil To Court for a Day of Reckoning

If you read or watch national news, you are painfully aware of ominous warnings, backed up by evidence from scientists worldwide, predicting the onset of rising seas, more severe storms, shrinking ice caps and devastation of ecosystems. Fossil fuel extraction, production and marketing is squarely at the heart of the climate change impacts that are happening now and will only get worse – perhaps much worse. 

On Monday, July 17, the County of Marin filed a lawsuit against 37 oil, gas and coal companies, including Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP. These major players in the fossil fuel industry knew their products significantly increased greenhouse gas emissions and contributed to global warming and sea level rise that is already putting our County at risk. They were warned decades ago by their own scientists and experts that rising seas from a warming world would occur if the companies continued with business as usual. Yet the fossil fuel industry did nothing to reduce the impacts of burning oil, gas and coal. Instead, they ripped a page from the tobacco lobby’s playbook and launched a multi-million dollar public relations and lobbying campaign to discredit scientific evidence about climate change, even while, in some instances, investing to protect their own assets from the impact of rising seas.

It’s time to hold the oil, gas and coal companies accountable for the damage they knew their products would cause. This case is about fairness and accountability. It’s about standing up for our residents and businesses, whose property and livelihoods are now at risk and who, as taxpayers, will pick up the tab for the damages these companies are causing.

In April, the County of Marin released the Marin Shoreline Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Assessment, a study of the risks of sea level rise along Marin's bayside shoreline. Within 15 years, tidal flooding at 10 inches of sea level rise could reach 5000 acres, 1300 parcels and 700 buildings, potentially impacting tens of thousands of residents. The Sea Level Rise Assessment made it painfully clear that in the near-term, homes, roads and pathways, businesses, hospitals, schools, sewage treatment plants, nursing homes, churches, and habitats are all at risk.

Marin's topography, geography and extensive coastline make it particularly susceptible to sea level rise. Projections of impacts in the medium and long term are more dire. All of these projections, based on the best available science, show upwards of $15.5 billion in damages to people and property in Marin. All of us will suffer the consequences and bear the costs.

Marin County has already spent millions of dollars on projects that help repair lands and infrastructure affected by rising sea levels and planning for its longer term affects. After years of witnessing and paying for the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, it’s time to say enough is enough.

By filing this lawsuit against 37 oil, gas and coal companies, the County of Marin is taking a decisive step to secure our future. Marin County is going to court to hold these companies accountable and seek monetary damages to help our communities adapt to climate change and sea level rise. This path is challenging but one we must take. Fortunately, we are not alone on this journey. The County of San Mateo and the City of Imperial Beach have also filed lawsuits.

The County is represented in the lawsuit by our County Counsel and assisted by outside counsel from San Francisco-based Sher Edling, LLP. Outside counsel is working on a contingency fee basis, so Marin is not paying out of pocket for its support. The defendants have 30 days from the complaint filing date to respond. From that response, a motion – or series of motions – will be made to determine whether the case will go to court.

This is the first time a California county or municipality has filed a complaint of this kind against the fossil fuel industry. We are energized for the fight. We hope you will stand with us.

I encourage you to read the complaint here. As always, you may write me at ksears@marincounty.org to share your thoughts.